Lester considers a puzzle by John Gray:

A family of fisher folk has since time immemorial trawled a given strip of coast. Now, because of industrial activity further along the coast, the catch which it had always brought in falls substantially. What are the fisher folk entitled to demand according to Lockean theory? (quoted on 133)

Now libertarians have long distinguished between the integrity and value of one’s property. If Smith is a farmer who grows wheat, and trains going along an adjacent railroad emit sparks that fly onto the farmer’s property, damaging the wheat, then upon certain conditions, the farmer is entitled to compensation. The farmer may have a right to physically undamaged crops against the railroad owner (and of course, perhaps the railroad owner has a right to use the farmer’s field as a sparks receptacle against the farmer). But if there is a drop in the demand for wheat, Smith has no right to any previous high value of his crops. Similarly, it makes no sense to curse God for bad weather that harmed the harvest. Smith cannot sue either the consumers or God.

In the case under consideration, the fisher folk likewise have no property right over the value of the fish. The difference between them and the farmer is that it is unclear according to classical libertarianism whether they even own (1) their fishing spots, (2) the expanse of water as a whole where fish was usually found, or (3) the fish (a) which they did not produce other than perhaps conserved by abstaining from imprudent overfishing and (b) which swim in and out of their “property” at their own pleasure.

There is no extensive libertarian theory of water rights, even though Walter Block, for example, has published a book called Water Capitalism: The Case for Privatizing Oceans, Rivers, Lakes, and Aquifers (which I have not read).

Yet Lester insists, apparently by calculating “imposed costs,” that “the industrial activity must cease and compensation be paid or, if the more productive company can afford it (unlike the new fisher folk), the original fisher folk have to be compensated to roughly the value of their continuing losses…” Is it libertarian “for the fisher folk to have the power of veto over the industrial activity”? (133-4) I am not sure, and I don’t know why Lester is sure.


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